Structure for Promotion (or lack thereof) in the Non-Profit Sector

In my years of working in the non-profit sector, I have noticed that there seem to be two different types of non-profit organizations: those which contain a structure in which deserving employees can be promoted and advance their careers, and those that do not. What are the pros and cons of each type of organization?

If you have been following this blog and “know” me by now, you’ll probably guess that I am in favor of organizations that have the ability and the structure to promote employees who excel and have proven that they can take on more than the responsibilities for which they were initially hired. When I worked in the for-profit sector (in the US), the organization I worked for had a relatively good structure for promotion for employees who excelled. (They also had annual reviews, during which if you got a good review you received at least a symbolic raise, if not more!) I have worked in non-profit organizations both in the US and in Israel. My own personal experience is that the NFPs in the US (some at least) do have a structure for employee advancement, while many in Israel do not. In Israel, from what I have seen, you can get more and more (and more) responsibilities, but your title will not change, nor will you be compensated financially for your additional responsibilities.

Again, this is what I have experienced personally. I am interested to know what people out there think, and your experiences. Are there benefits to not having a structure for advancement (i.e. a staff of workers all on the same “level”, under one manager)?

From what I have seen, non-profits want loyalty. They try to create a “familial” atmosphere, which in many respects is great. But then if a person wants to advance their career and no opportunities exist to do so within the organization, they are forced to look elsewhere. When employees leave, management can tend to take this personally, due to the familial atmosphere. I think that if a non-profit organization really wants to keep good employees, they must have a structure for promotion (even if it just means changing employees’ titles every couple years to reflect their added responsibilities), and non-profit employees should certainly be financially compensated for added job responsibilities.

What do you think?

Chava Ashkenazi

Jerusalem, Israel  

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7 Responses to Structure for Promotion (or lack thereof) in the Non-Profit Sector

  1. Ron Allswang says:

    Important topic, Chavi. As a rule, YOU must be your best and ongoing advocate in mid to smaller organizations. This is often very againt the style of the person who works for NPOs and by nature worries about him/herself last. I suspect that the larger orgs (hospitals, universities etc) have a mechanism. This seems like a wise thing to ask when interviewing.

  2. chavaleh1127 says:

    Ron, thank you very much for your feedback! I agree that everyone must be their own best advocate. However, unfortunately, even within larger organizations, there is sometimes not a structure for promotion. This could be because even within large organizations, departments themselves are relatively small, and there are not opportunities even to move to other departments.

  3. Tamara says:

    Oooooo, good stuff. That was important for me to read. I’ve been working for just six months in the NFP world in Israel, and I have already wondered about whether my employer will be able to keep me over the long term, by means of the very mechanisms you mentioned. Raises (even symbolic) and changes of title to reflect growth are both expressions that seem to me to reflect the very basics of intelligent management. Personal growth is awesome, but motivation can’t be always internally motivated. Rewards go a long way in generating energy and loyalty.

  4. Tamara says:

    I meant to say that motivation can’t always be internally *driven*.

  5. chavaleh1127 says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Tamara! I definitely agree with what you have to say! 🙂

  6. Michal says:

    An added challenge is that it’s usually the more interesting non profit organizations in Israel where your role will comprise a diverse range of marketing, grantwriting, mission planning etc. responsibilities, where the problem of lack of promotion is greatest. This is because an average non profit in Israel will have a maximum of 2 fundraising roles – director and a more junior role. There’s really nowhere to go with that. The only real way to progress is to move around, gain more experience in difference types of roles and organizations and hope that it will amount to sufficient experience to gain a more senior role elsewhere.

  7. chavaleh1127 says:

    Excellent point, Michal! I guess that just underlines the fact that if a person wants to move up in a non-profit organization (especially in Israel), the only option is really to look elsewhere ….

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